Most academic journals have stringent manuscript formatting guidelines that authors must follow before making an initial submission. This process is extremely time consuming and, in many cases, has to be repeated multiple times for submission to a new journal after rejection. Formatting has no impact on the scientific basis of a manuscript, and style plays no role on the ability to judge its scientific content. It is, therefore, essential to stop these unnecessary and wasteful cycles of formatting. Here, we propose a universal ‘format-free’ initial submission policy, which we urge journals and the scientific community to adopt, to put science first and formatting later.